The Power of a Group Class

by Heather Earl

Years ago, I took a workshop where the instructor had us move organically around an imaginary fire and “toss” in what no longer served us. Uncomfortable at first, I moved stiffly and looked to my fellow yogis for guidance. We all seemed to be a bit restrained in our movements but after one circle of the “fire” I could see the group begin to become more spontaneous. Resistance started to fade as the energy began to travel from person to person, each moving impulsively to their own nature yet drawing inspiration from the group, moving together in a circle around the fire, silently supporting each other to toss away.

Like many yoga experiences, this one fleeting exercise is just a blip on my yoga journey, yet it has profoundly shaped both the way I teach and practice. For years I practiced yoga by myself. In the corner of my bedroom, in a small nook at the stark hotel gym with earplugs, on my balcony above the city, anywhere I could carve out a space to practice, I did, but only because there were no yoga classes where I was living at the time. While I cultivated a strong commitment and determination to my solitary practice, I savored the rare opportunity to practice with a group.

The power of a group is not new. Historically, every society has had a means to move physically together in a social setting. African and Native American drumming and dance may be common images we have, but every culture has cultivated a tradition to come together and draw energy from the group incorporating some form of movement. Our very nature as humans is social interaction and acceptance. Our very nature as humans is also to move our bodies. People do not do well in solitary confinement. They have an innate need to be a part of a group and to offer their unique contribution to the whole.

Thich Nhat Hanh said, “It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community. A community practicing understanding and loving-kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.

This transformation lies in the power of Sangha, a community of like-minded seekers who get together to meditate, practice mindfulness and move with a common focus. This survival on an individual level is the transformation you experience within your yoga practice. We are all looking to change and transform into the person we want to be and the person we would like others to see us as. This is the essence of our practice. Although our individual practice is unique, it is this shared vision and awareness that we are all moving through a transformation that cultivates positive energy within the group. It is through this collective vision of growth, that we support and honor each other. That is the power of the group.

As a teacher I witness how powerfully students connect when they are encouraged to find and cultivate their own path to transformation, offering their unique energy to the group. As a student, I am supported and inspired by the intention of those I practice next to. A commitment to a personal practice is profound, but so to is the commitment to the shared effort of the tribe. So next time you have the good fortune to practice within a group, take a moment to honor your fellow yogis and the energy of the Sangha.

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